There are only about 100 Florida panthers left in the wild, but you can see them at various zoos as well as Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue.
Cirque du Soleil (“Circus of the Sun”) was born from a group of Canadian street performers, who first performed as a company in 1984 to help Quebec City celebrate its 450th anniversary. Cirque creates innovative, live shows and presents them under big tops or in theaters around the world. In Florida, La Nouba is its resident show at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando; it also stages performances in Miami and St. Petersburg. 407-939-7600
Lake Placid, a town of about 2,000 residents set in Highlands County in the south-central part of Florida, claims to have the most clowns per capita of any town in the state. Toby’s Clown School was founded there in 1993. Since then, more than 500 clowns have graduated from the school. Elderhostel offers a weeklong clown school in Lake Placid in February, which teaches makeup techniques, costuming and clown character development as well as the history and philosophy of clowning. And more than 40 murals adorn the town, including a fence covered with more than 25 clowns, most of them replicas of clowns who live in Lake Placid.
Big Cat Rescue in Tampa is a nonprofit educational sanctuary founded in 1992 that offers scheduled tours of its facilities. Its mission is to rescue and provide a permanent home for exotic cats that have been abused, abandoned or retired from performing acts. The sanctuary houses 16 species of wild cat among its more than 100 residents, including tigers, lions, leopards, cougars, bobcats, lynx, ocelots, servals and caracals. Big Cat Rescue, 12802 Easy St., Tampa; 813-920-4130
The Flying High Circus at Florida State University in Tallahassee, founded in 1947, is an extracurricular activity for students. The students present an annual Homeshow performance series, taking place in April under the Big Top on campus. The students, who juggle, clown and perform on the flying trapeze and other apparatus, have been featured on national TV and have performed in Canada and the Caribbean. 850-644-4874
Gibsonton, a hamlet located 10 miles southeast of Tampa, is famous as a home to active and retired circus performers. It is home to the 4,500-member International Independent Showmen’s Association. The town, also known as Showtown USA, was founded in the early 1940s by Al the 8’4-½” giant and Jeanie the 2’ 6” “Half Girl.”